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Here She Comes … Penny Pearlman!

On Sunday night, the current Miss America — Kira Kazantsev of New York — passes her crown to a new  woman who (in the words of the pageant’s founder) “represents the highest ideals. She is a real combination of beauty, grace, and intelligence, artistic and refined.”

Media hype? Epitome of misplaced values? Dusty relic?

Penny Pearlman does not think so.

The Westport resident believes that women need a lot more than a great body and nice smile to be named Miss America.

Pearlman says contest winners are not just pretty. They’re also pretty smart,

Also passionate, insightful and eloquent.

Those are not just her thoughts. She spent several months traveling across the country. She interviewed 22 former Miss Americas.

Pretty Smart bookNow — on the eve of the 95th annual pageant — is a great time to talk about a book she wrote after all that. Pretty Smart: Lessons From Our Miss Americas portrays these women as beautiful and intelligent enough to win — and smart enough to make the most those victories.

Pearlman is not a veteran writer. She worked for many years in healthcare, including consulting and as a vice president at Bridgeport Hospital.

She also earned an MBA from Wharton, and has a master’s in art therapy.

“Every 5 years I get restless,” she says. “I always have to do something different.”

As a consultant, she thought about the qualities of successful people. She realized that Miss America winners exemplified all those traits.

Pearlman had not watched the pageant since she was a child, back in the 1950s and ’60s. She hadn’t really thought about it, either.

Penny Pearlman

Penny Pearlman

But the idea of Miss Americas as successful women stuck with her. She decided to write a book about them, then signed on with the Westport Writers’ Workshop to hone her skills.

Still, she was a nobody. When she asked former winners to chat, no one responded.

So Pearlman did what resourceful people (like Miss Americas) do: She tried a different approach.

In January 2007, she flew to Las Vegas. (That’s where the pageant relocated for a few years — with a different date — in an unsuccessful attempt to shed its Atlantic City baggage.)

She waited in a theater lobby for former Miss Americas to appear, after a preliminary event. Several agreed to talk.

Two weeks later, Pearlman was in Louisville with 2000 winner Heather French. They had a great conversation.

That opened the door to other interviews. Over the next 8 months, Pearlman met 22 Miss Americas. They included big names, like  Lee Meriwether (1955) and Mary Ann Mobley (1959). (Arguably the most famous of all — Bess Myerson — was too ill to talk.)

After winning the Miss America title, Phyllis George became a businesswoman, actress and sportscaster. She was also First Lady of Kentucky.

After winning the Miss America title, Phyllis George became a businesswoman, actress and sportscaster. She was also First Lady of Kentucky.

The conversations were wide-ranging, insightful and fun. Phyllis George (1971) took Pearlman to the Carlyle in New York. Judy Collins recognized George, and came over to chat. George ended up writing the forward to Pearlman’s book.

The interviews convinced the author that her premise was right.

“All the women have different personalities, and different looks,” Pearlman says. “But they all had a dream, and the drive to achieve it.”

Miss Americas went to schools like Harvard and Stanford. Several earned graduate degrees, even Ph.D.s.

“They are intelligent, articulate women,” Pearlman notes. “But they don’t sit on their laurels. All of them saw Miss America as a platform to jump off, and do bigger things.”

In 1989 the pageant added a social cause component. This is not window dressing. Pearlman says that winners have embraced — passionately and personally — causes like drunk driving, literacy and AIDS awareness.

She also sees the Miss America contest as feminist. “Long before Betty Friedan, it’s emphasized college, and the achievements of women,” Pearlman insists.

Pretty Smart focuses on Miss Americas. But, Pearlman says, “it’s really about how to be a winner in any field. And how to inspire people to follow their dreams.”

Pretty smart on her part, too.

(Penny Pearlman speaks about her book at 6:30 p.m. tonight [Thursday, September 10] at the Westport Historical Society. Two former Miss Connecticuts will be there too. There is a $10 donation, and reservations are required; call 203-222-1424. Click here for more information.)

(Hat tip: Prill Boyle)

Miss America logo


Gigantic Gilbertie Family Gathers

In 1890, brothers Antonio and Alesandro Gilbertie immigrated with their families from Italy to Brooklyn.

Through friends and relatives they learned of a small Connecticut community called Saugatuck. Italians were moving in, displacing the Irish who had built the first 2 railroad tracks.

The Gilberties fell in love with the area, and found work building the railroad’s second 2 tracks.

Antonio and Alessandro wrote their 3 brothers — Samuel, Michael and Julius — back home in Salerno that they’d found the perfect place to live. Within the next few years, the remaining brothers and their families arrived in Saugatuck.

Over the years, the Original 5 — as they’re still called — started A. Gilbertie Florist (now Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens), Weston Gardens, and many small businesses.

They and their descendants became builders, excavators and plumbers. They served in both world wars, and in town government. Gradually they spread to neighboring towns, the tri-state region, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

A Gilbertie family photograph, circa 1910.

A Gilbertie family photograph, circa 1910.

Today, Ken Gilbertie has no idea how many 2nd and 3rd cousins he has.

But he, his cousin Ginny and others would like to find tout.

They’ve organized a Gilbertie family reunion. It’s set for this Saturday (September 12) at Sherwood Island.

They’ve created a Facebook group, and are trying to get the word out in other ways. But they know there are more Gilberties out there.

If you’re a member of one of Westport’s leading families — or know someone who is — check out the “Gilbertie Family Reunion 2015” page on Facebook. Or email

Normally, a family reunion would not be “06880”-worthy.

But — since 1890 — the Gilberties have been much more than a normal family.

Antonio and Marie Gilbertie with granddaughter Celeste, around 1940.

Antonio and Marie Gilbertie with granddaughter Celeste, around 1940.

Remembering Joyce Clarke

Joyce Clarke — one of Westport’s most remarkable, and most unsung women — died Sunday. She was 103 years old. Her funeral is this Friday (September 4), 11 a.m. at the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Last winter, I had the great fortune to interview her. Here is that story.


When Joyce Clarke was growing up, few jobs were open to women. She didn’t want to teach, so she took a YMCA course to learn about secretarial duties.

She took a temporary job in a small New York City firm. “I didn’t know what they did, but they were very nice people,” she recalled last week in her warm, sunlit Saugatuck Shores home. “I learned a lot.”

What they did was public relations. Joyce was ready to live out her career as a secretary. But war intervened, and when her boss was called away, her life changed.

That would be World War II. Yes, it was a while ago. On February 11, Joyce — who went on to found a pioneering, legendary women-led PR firm — celebrates her 103rd birthday.

Joyce Clarke, in her Saugatuck Shores home.

She formed the company with Sally Dickson, a Westport woman whose family was known here for its heating and plumbing business. Starting with $500, a typewriter, telephone and 1-room office, they found a niche  — and succeeded nicely — in a very male-dominated profession.

Sally Dickson & Associates concentrated on “home ec”-style accounts. They were hired by a Fortune 500 company that became the largest American supplier of rayon; helped revive the Good Housekeeping “Seal of Approval”; created a pattern contest for Vogue that was featured in Life Magazine; wrote a book called “A Woman’s Guide to Financial Planning,” and spent 23 years managing the Ocean Spray cranberry account.

Sally Dickson & Associates had a long relationship with Good Housekeeping magazine.

Good Housekeeping trusted them with a list of over 30,000 women’s clubs across the country. The firm used that gold mine to target mailings for clients like Procter & Gamble, S&H Green Stamps and Borden.

“It was good to be a woman in that industry,” Joyce says. Her vision is gone, and she does not hear perfectly. But — 3 years past the century mark — her mind is incredibly sharp. She remembers names and dates perfectly.

She spent her career in PR because she liked “the freedom of using my mind inventively. I could decide what to do, express my ideas, and then go out and do it.”

The firm’s warm, stylish offices became a comfortable hangout for clients (including men). Account executives brought their daughters to talk to the female founders.

The only discrimination Joyce and Sally faced was from a banker, who said he was not in business to finance “young women.”

Sally Dickson & Associates grew to a staff of 30. Most were female. In 1971 the firm was sold to Donald Creamer. The women continued working, retiring in 1980.

On TV, women served men in the “Mad Men” era. But Joyce Clarke and Sally Dickson stood on their own feet.

“In the ‘Mad Men’ era, Joyce and Sally found a way to put females in the forefront,” says Matthew Cookson, founder of his own PR firm who also teaches about the history of the profession.

“That’s important, because the majority of consumers were women. She was excellent at networking, personal relationships, and partnering with clients over the long term.”

Westporter Kim Shaw interned at the firm Joyce founded. “She retired years earlier,” Kim recalls. “But the mere mention of her name commanded such enthusiasm and respect. She was a trailblazer among trailblazers.”

Near the end of their career, Joyce and Sally bought several lots on Saugatuck Shores. On one, they built a home. Sally died in 1999, at 86. Joyce still lives there.

Buying those waterfront properties was “a very good investment,” Joyce laughs knowingly.

The Silver Anvil is one of the highest honors in the public relations industry.

She regrets very few things. (One is selling her New York City co-op.) She is proud of her work, as a professional as well as a woman. (In 1945 the firm earned one of the first prestigious Silver Anvil awards ever, from the precursor of the Public Relations Society of America.)

“Being women worked for us, not against us,” Joyce says. ” We weren’t the greatest agency in the world, but we were successful enough to be hired!”

In the 21st century, Americans marvel at the long-ago, male-centric world portrayed in “Mad Men.”

But in real live New York — starting 2 decades earlier — Joyce Clarke and Sally Dickson were quietly, determinedly and very effectively proving that women could play that game, too.

On February 11, Joyce turns 103. She’s still going strong.

Lindsay Runkel’s Journey Forward

Lindsay Runkel’s family moved to Westport in 1993. She attended the Nature Center nursery school, then moved step by step through the school system.

Lindsay was a free spirit — a bit alternative but sweet, beautiful and very smart.

She attended college in Arizona, then moved back senior year to finish her degree in nursing at the University of Connecticut-Stamford.

Lindsay worked hard throughout high school and college to help pay her way. Burgers seemed to be a theme: She was hired by both Five Guys and Shake Shack.

Always physically active, Lindsay grew passionate about mountain biking. Through a shop in Ridgefield, she went on weekend biking excursions.

Last October 5, Lindsay and a group were riding in New Hampshire. Near the end of the day, Lindsay landed the wrong way on a jump. Her spine was severed.

She spent several weeks at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. Just before Thanksgiving, she came home to Westport. A carpenter friend turned a downstairs office into a wheelchair-accessible bedroom and bathroom, and outfitted the main floor with ramps.

Lindsay Runkel

Lindsay Runkel

Lindsay did rehab at Burke Hospital in White Plains for as long as her insurance lasted.

She also learned of Journey Forward. The rehab facility combines exercise and neuromuscular stimulation in the belief that if muscles do not atrophy, a person may regain feeling and some movement. Lindsay’s parents drive her to Journey Forward twice a week for sessions. She is doing amazingly well for someone in her condition.

Lindsay also goes a few times each week to TTEndurance in Westport, to pedal an adaptive bike with her hands.

Her family is coping as best they can, though times for them are tough too. Meanwhile, Lindsay talks of returning to college, driving and living a full life.

To help with her Journey Forward costs, friends and relatives have organized a fundraiser. It’s set for SoulCycle on Saturday, September 12 (check-in 1:30 p.m., ride 2-2:45 p.m.). The suggested donation is $50 per ride.

To register, click here. For more information, contact Casey Berg: 203-984-8914;


Sybil And Salman

The announcement that Salman Rushdie would give the Westport Library’s Malloy Lecture in the Arts in October sent many Westporters scurrying to claim (free) tickets.

It led a few to the “Comments” section of “06880,” where they turned the literary coup into a denunciation of the Iran nuclear weapons deal. (NOTE: Please don’t do that here again.)

For Sybil Steinberg, it jogged a memory of one of the most interesting moments in her long career.

Sybil Steinberg

Sybil Steinberg

Steinberg — who moved to Westport in 1960 — has spent much of her professional life as a contributing editor at Publishers Weekly. She writes reviews and conducts interviews. (As a volunteer side gig, she produces the very popular “Sybil’s List” of intriguing new books for the Westport Library.)

In 1994 — 5 years after Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie’s assassination for blaspheming Islam in his book The Satanic Verses, and in the midst of several related killings — Steinberg received a call from the author’s publisher.

Could she fly to London to interview Rushdie about East, West, his new collection of short stories?

And could she be there within 24 hours?

Yes. And yes.

Steinberg spent the red-eye flight reading everything she could by and about the controversial writer. She was taken to a hotel near Harrods, then directed to a cab with tinted windows.

She had no idea where she was going. It turned out to be Random House’s London office, where Steinberg was met by 2 security guards. They patted her down, examined her tape recorder, and marched her to Rushdie’s editor’s office.

The author came in, flanked by security. For the next 2 hours, they talked.

“He was delightful,” Steinberg recalls. “He had a great sense of humor. And he’d just finished his next novel that morning, so he was in an ebullient mood.”

Salman Rushdie/© Beowulf Sheehan

Salman Rushdie/© Beowulf Sheehan

He said he was determined not to be beaten by the fatwa. He was bitter about the writers who had denounced him, and pleased with his defenders. He praised American booksellers who kept Satanic Verses on their shelves, despite threats (and occasional vandalism).

Publishers Weekly ran Steinberg’s interview across 3 pages. It was the most they’ve ever given for such a story — and they haven’t done it since.

Twenty-four hours later, Steinberg was back in Westport.

She’d been apprehensive before the interview, she recalls. She had not known what to expect. But Rushdie was “so open, articulate and warm,” her concerns vanished.

She hopes that when he’s in Westport, Rushdie will talk about his life in 3 cultures: India, Britain and now the US.

“I’ll be there, in the front row,” Steinberg promises. “He’s a very nice man, and a very important writer.”

(Admission to Salman Rushdie’s talk — set for Staples High School on October 22 — is free. However, tickets are required. Click here to register.)

Cockenoe Stone Wall Challenge

Recent “06880” posts on Cockenoe Island — 1950s-era photos from Bill Whitbeck, and a south-side shot by JP Vellotti — have proven popular with readers. The island a mile off Compo Beach has a long, enduring hold on Westporters.

Bill sends along another image, from the summer of 1969. It’s of a friend (and fellow Big Top worker) named Leslie. Today, he hopes it will answer a question he’s had for decades.

Cockenoe stone wall -- Bill Whitbeck

Bill writes:

 If you can get past looking at Leslie you’ll see a stone wall, maybe 15 feet tall, the remains of some type of structure. There is mortar between the rocks, so it is definitely manmade.

At that time, very few people explored that side of the island. It was a difficult trek over a rocky shore strewn with large boulders. I remember hiking completely around the island a couple times, and it took a good part of the day.

I’ve always wondered about that wall. Who built it? How long ago? Was it part of a complete structure at one time? Is it still there?

If any “06880” readers know anything about this mystery wall, I’d be anxious to hear about it. If anyone ever hikes the south side, see if any part of the wall remains. If I remember correctly it was located near the middle of the southern shoreline, and was easily visible from the shore 40 years ago.

“06880” readers: That’s your late-summer assignment. Please click “Comments” if you can shed any light on the stone wall.

And Leslie, if you’re out there: What’s up with you these days?

Buell Neidlinger: A Man And His Music

“06880” truly is “where Westport meets the world.” Approximately 1/3 of our readers are outside Fairfield County — many of them far, far away. Some have not lived here for decades.

Each has his or her own reasons for still feeling connected to this place. Each has been on an interesting journey. But we’d have to scour the earth to find a more intriguing Westport — and post-Westport — story than Buell Neidlinger’s.

Born in 1936, he was a Westporter through 1955. Buell remembers 3 distinct eras of growing up.

Prior to World War II, many Fairfield County families lived in homes their ancestors built — before the Revolutionary War.

During wartime, most fathers headed overseas. Rationing limited Buell’s mother to half a tank at Walt’s Gas Station — and it had to last a week. Still, she drove to Compo Beach to serve as an air raid warden.

Air raid instructions

Climbing rickety steps to a tiny room atop the old Cedar Point Yacht Club building, she sat in the cold for 3-hour shifts, scanning east through powerful binoculars for submarines and enemy planes coming in over the Sound. None ever did.

Sometimes she brought Buell and his brother Roger to play outside. Compo Beach was always deserted.

At 8 years old, in a summer program at the old Staples High School on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School), Buell was taught the trumpet by Staples’ legendary music director John Ohanian.

Ohanian later gave Buell a cello solo. The song was “O Holy Night”; it was Christmas Eve, at Saugatuck Congregational Church. Buell was 11 years old.

When “the boys” came home and rationing ended, the beach was packed. Buell calls this “the boozy after-the-war time of new cul-de-sacs and rampaging development.” Farms and old homes began to disappear; restaurants like the Clam Box and Manero’s sprang up. It was the beginning of “the new Westport.”

When the Neidlingers lived on Keyser Road, he was often sent to Montgomery’s store on the corner of  South Compo and Green’s Farms Road (where I-95 is now). On that short walk he’d pass the homes of New York Philharmonic concertmaster John Corigliano, practicing for his gig; Metropolitan Opera basso Alexander Kipnis, warming up, and legendary pianist Marjorie Stokes.

Alexander Kipnis in the Metropolitan Opera's production of

Alexander Kipnis in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Parsifal.”

The 20-minute round trip walk took 2 hours — and it wasn’t spent just listening to musicians. Syndicated humorist Parke Cummings lived kitty-corner from Montgomery’s, and taught Buell a lot about timing the punch line.

In the other direction — toward the Post Road — world-class pianist Ruth Steinkraus lived with her family in a beautiful mansion. A few doors away were cellists Lieff and Marie Romaet Rosanoff. Marie’s sound floated out the window — unless Gault started crushing gravel, in which case she’d slam it shut.

Also on Compo: Broadway songwriter Jerry Livingston, who’d just had a huge radio hit with the novelty song “Mairzy Doats.”

John Ohanian gave Buell Neidlinger his start in music.

John Ohanian gave Buell Neidlinger his start in music.

Bobby Livingston and Buell were in Ohanian’s band class together. They hung out in the back yard, while Bobby’s dad searched for another hit on his piano.

“The free pop harmony lessons I received in that yard served me well all my professional life,” Buell says.

He learned from all those South Compo neighbors — and the Westport School of Music — that with hard work and passion, a career in music was possible.

After high school, Buell headed to Yale. By then he’d moved from trumpet and cello to bass. In 1956 — age 20 — he left for New York. In the 1950s and ’60s, he did it all: clubs, Broadway shows, jingles, touring and recording with singers and bands. He played Carnegie Hall with Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra — and worked with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme when they opened for the Beatles at the Paramount Theater. (Paul McCartney gave him a bass.)

Buell joined the Boston Symphony in 1967. Four years later — lured by an offer to become a professor at the brand new California Institute of the Arts — he headed west. In Los Angeles Buell performed on scores for over 600 movies, including “Shawshank Redemption,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Yentl.”

He was principal bass of the Warner Brothers studio orchestra for 27 years. He often played with Chris Hanulik — whose father John taught with Ohanian at Staples for many years.

Buell’s talent is matched only by his versatility. He’s played or performed with — among many others — Billie Holliday, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Frank Zappa, Ringo Starr, the Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello and Earth, Wind & Fire.

Buell Neidlinger (center), flanked by Roy Orbison and T Bone Burnett.

Buell Neidlinger (center), flanked by Roy Orbison and T Bone Burnett.

Oh, yeah. There’s one more “Westport meets the world” piece to Buell Neidlinger’s story. When he was with the Boston Symphony, he was on the selection committee to choose a new French horn player. He proudly voted for the winner: David Ohanian.

Yes, the son of the man who’d given him his 1st trumpet lessons many years before — the start of his lifelong profession.

(Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Buell Neidlinger today.

Buell Neidlinger today.

Unitarian Church Seeks A Lift

When Westport’s Unitarian Church was built 50 years ago, the congregation was largely young.

The church itself still looks fresh and modern. But some of those congregants are still around. And one thing they didn’t think about back in 1965 — accessibility of the sanctuary — now haunts them.

“Some members just can’t come anymore,” says Bobbie Herman. As a trustee of the church, she stands at the door and watches people struggle to get up the hill from the parking lot. A number of steep wide steps separate the lot from the front door.

The steps leading up to the Unitarian Church's front door.

The steps leading up to the Unitarian Church’s front door.

There are side entrances on the lower level. But once inside, it’s a long flight of stairs to the sanctuary.

Members studied options like golf carts. But those are volunteer- and weather-dependent.

The best solution seemed to be a hydraulic lift. It’s 25 square feet, and can hold 3 people.

Planning and Zoning director Larry Bradley gave an initial okay. But he asked for a detailed survey, and discovered that with the placement of the lift and moving handicap spaces, the church would be over its legal coverage.

“Handicap ramps are exempt from coverage,” he explains. “Lifts and parking spaces are not.”

This is the type of lift the church would like to install.

This is the type of lift the church would like to install.

The changes needed to be in compliance — including an additional site plan, wetlands survey and work to the property — would substantially increase the cost of the lift, Herman and church building and grounds committee head Chuck Colletti say.

They’ve raised $30,000 from members so far. They don’t think they could swing the additional “huge” costs.

Colletti and Herman say that 2 acts — Americans with Disabilities, and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons — compel them to make their church accessible to all.

The Unitarian Church is asking for a Planning & Zoning Commission text amendment, to legalize their lift and amend the definition of “total coverage” to exempt handicapped parking. They’re on the agenda this Thursday (July 16).

“All we want is a 25-square foot platform, to built a lift,” Colletti says.

“This is not about whether I like the project or not,” Bradley says. “My job is to enforce the zoning regulations, as they’re written.”


Ryan Milligan’s Puzzling Life

The New York Times is the gold standard of crossword puzzles. If you can solve one, you feel pretty good.

If you can actually create and sell one to Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, you feel even better.

Ryan Milligan did just that. His crossword puzzle was published today. Not too shabby for a 25-year-old.

Ryan Milligan

Ryan Milligan

Then again, while at Staples High School he was already making crosswords. He got the bug helping his dad, Marty, solve the Times puzzle before school each morning (Ryan’s specialty was French clues). Soon, he was solving them on his own — on the bus, or during free periods.

Starting as a junior, the Class of 2008 member created one crossword a week. He’d print 150 copies, and leave them in the lobby. By lunchtime, they’d be gone.

His first puzzles, he admits, were “truly terrible.” Over the years, he honed his craft. He learned to fit the Times standard: 180-degree symmetry, fewer than 40 black squares, fewer than 78 words, no 2-letter entries, etc.

Ryan submitted his 1st puzzle to Shortz as a senior. It was rejected. So were the 10 or so that followed.

But the puzzle editor has been “an incredible mentor” over the past 8 years, Ryan says.

Shortz always gave full explanations for the rejection. Usually the theme was tired, or had been used before.

This time, Ryan hit paydirt. (Actually it was a year ago. Shortz has a long waiting list for publication.)

SPOILER ALERT: Today’s theme is “Hidden in plain sight.” The word “hidden” is hidden in the 1st long across row. The words “in plain” are hidden in the 2nd long row; the word “sight” is hidden in the 3rd one. The 4th long across row reveals the overall theme.

NY Times crosswordRyan thinks Shortz liked it because it was “really different. Constructors often take standard phrases and change a letter or 2 around to make them wacky. But this is something that has really not been tried before.”

Shortz is a hands-on editor. He changed some of the long across answers, then pulled in Frank Longo to rework the puzzle a bit more.

Ryan is not resting on his laurels. He creates a crossword every couple of weeks, submitting those he feels are print-worthy.

The Dartmouth graduate works in marketing for, an online furniture retailer. He lives in Boston.

Today he’ll walk around the city. Perhaps he’ll see someone trying to solve the puzzle he made. Few people read the constructors’ names; even those who do won’t know they’re working on “his” puzzle.

Ryan Milligan will be hidden in plain sight.

(To read what the New York Times crossword community is saying about Ryan Milligan’s puzzle, click here.)

Today's puzzle, by Ryan Milligan. (Copyright/New York Times)

Today’s puzzle, by Ryan Milligan. (Copyright/New York Times)

Remembering Jay Emmett

Jay Emmett — one of the entertainment world’s leading executives in the 1960s and ’70s, and a powerful influence in everything from Batman to the New York Cosmos — died last Monday night, at 86. The cause was heart failure, at his home in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Emmett was a longtime resident of Westport, while he built his career in movies and sports marketing.

He began his career working for his uncle in a family-run comic book publishing company that owned the rights to a number of superheroes, including Batman and Superman.

Jay Emmett

Jay Emmett

Emmett founded the Licensing Corporation of America, which expanded from licensing comic book and cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and Tweety Bird into sports marketing, leading to partnerships with Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.

In 1964 Emmett joined Warner Communications — now Time Warner — and was named president, under chairman Steve Ross.

Emmett oversaw great growth in the company’s music and movie divisions during the 1960’s and 1970’s. When the company established the original New York Cosmos, he was instrumental in signing Brazilian star Pelé. The franchise went on to draw more than 70,000 fans each game.

Emmett’s close friendship with Washington attorney Edward Bennett Williams led to his meeting Larry Lucchino, a Williams protégé. Emmett helped Lucchino’s teams — the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox — set home attendance records.

Emmett’s love of sports led him to partner with Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the early 1970’s. They worked to develop the Special Olympics into one of the most important charitable institutions in the world. Emmett served in a number of capacities, including as a member of its international board of directors

Family and friends in Westport remember Emmett for his charismatic personality, infectious enthusiasm for life, and his outspoken nature. In recent years, Emmett derived great pleasure from the success of his children and grandchildren.

Emmett is survived by his sons Steven and Andrew, and daughters-in-law Deborah, Marlene, and Geri. He leaves behind 6 grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife Martha and son Paul.

A public celebration of Emmett’s life will be held at Fenway Park this summer. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his name to the Special Olympics.

To express condolences and/or make donations, click here.

special olympics